Colombia reaps from the summit: free trade agreement with US becomes effective in May
The US-Colombia free trade agreement will enter into force next month, far earlier than expected, as a result of what the Obama administration called historic progress for Colombian worker protections and human rights.
The announcement came during the Summit of the Americas in Colombia, where President Barack Obama met regional political and business leaders including Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to push for greater access for US exports.
US Trade Representative Ron Kirk told reporters in Cartagena that the trade deal Obama signed in October would be implemented on May 15, months ahead of what most trade watchers had anticipated.
We believe this is a very historic step, Kirk said.
An elated Santos said free trade with the United States had been a Colombian dream for 20 years that has finally come true.
This will create thousands, millions of jobs in the United States and Colombia, he said at a news conference with Obama.
Colombia's weak labour record, including murders and attacks on union activists that were not investigated, had held up the free trade pact with the United States for years.
Politically powerful US union groups like the AFL-CIO had opposed the deal - which was largely negotiated under former President George W. Bush - on the grounds that Colombia lacked the capacity to enforce worker protections.
On Sunday, Obama administration officials said Colombia's creation of a new labour ministry, prosecution of crimes against union workers and steps to fight discrimination against Afro-Colombians and women had assuaged its concerns and made it possible to implement the trade deal.
Labour Secretary Hilda Solis told reporters US officials had been working closely with Colombia on labour rights issues over the last year and the United States believes there has been remarkable progress.
However, we do know that there still remain challenges, she said.
Colombia already has duty-free access to the United States for most goods under long time US trade preference programs. When implemented, the deal will eliminate most of the duties Colombia now imposes on American farming and manufactured goods.